With the festival just days away, most of the racing community is firmly in the jumps mould but for myself this is my favourite time of year for a multitude of reasons. It’s like the last hour before dark when you’re carp fishing. Simply the best time of the sporting year. Not only do we have Cheltenham and Aintree but also the start of the cricket season, the snooker World Champs and of course The Masters at Augusta. Throw in to the mix all the football ante-post bets winning or losing and of course the main course is the start of the flat season!
I seem to be looking forward to it more than ever this time around. Probably due to the fact that I missed a lot of it last year due to my work commitments abroad. This time though I am raring to go.
So I thought I would do something a little different. There are so many “horses to follow” pieces that you can read. Most of them concentrate on potential stars or three-year-olds likely to make it to pattern company from handicaps. What I’ve done is compile a list of 21 horses from my Proform Horse Watcher that will hopefully win you some money over the first few weeks of the turf season. They are a mixture of promising types, well handicapped horses at the bottom of the scale and indeed a couple that seem ready to win either on turf or the all-weather. I have also thrown a few wild cards in at the bottom that may also make an unexpected appearance in the winners enclosure in 2018.
Rather than strength of interest I will do them in age order and you can easily add them to your trackers.
BATTLE LINES – JAMES TATE – OR 77
Nothing too flashy to start with. A horse that has had six starts to date and seems to be better than his current mark of 77. I’m not pointing you in the direction of a superstar and he has been well found (favourite first three handicap runs) but I believe he is better than 77. His main trait so far has been his keenness in his races. If you go back to his handicap debut at Newcastle he clearly didn’t relish a stiff ten furlongs so the drop back to eight/nine will be his optimum at the moment. It looks very much like we could squeeze a win out of him before going for some headgear. He actually should have won at Wolverhampton last time in my opinion, just getting trapped in a pocket as the leader took advantage on a day it paid to be handy. He will be winning soon.
DANDIESQUE – RICHARD HANNON – OR 67
A nice handicapper for the upcoming season to follow. I’m sure she went into a few notebooks on the back of her second at Salisbury under Ryan Moore back in September on handicap debut. That booking alone may have hinted Hannon thought she was better than her opening mark of 67. She was lazy early on but as the race progressed she warmed to the task but got into a bit of bother against the rail before finishing nicely. Next time out she got messed about at the start and on her final start she was given a very clever ride out the back at Lingfield. She was dropped 1lb for that last run too. I think we have a potentially well handicapped filly on our hands here who could win us a few races over a mile this season.
GALACTIC – RICHARD HANNON – OR 61
Awarded an opening mark of 68 on the back of three average runs in novice events mid-season. He has dropped 7lbs in the weights on the back of six further win-less efforts. Several of those though caught my attention and although beaten by five lengths on his final start at HQ, the winner there was absolutely lobbed in and I’m sure we have something to work with. He’s by Roderic O’Connor. His progeny all show a level stakes profit in all race types.
All-Weather +95.50 pts
Turf +82.44 pts
Interestingly though stick them on soft ground and his figures improve (+125.09 pts). So I will be interested to see him appear early season when there is some soft in the description. Either way with a winter in him, growth and natural progression I think the Hannon’s have another potentially well handicapped animal to go to war with.
INDIAN WARRIOR – ED DUNLOP – OR 72
Looks a sure-fire winner waiting to happen. He was backed off the boards at Wolverhampton in September (first AW run) but got into all sorts of trouble turning for home and had no chance. On the back of that he was too keen to finish off up the hill at Newcastle and then hated being out the back at Chelmsford on his last run. I found it interesting that he was allowed to drift to 25/1 on this occasion having been so well backed previously. It was no surprise to see him out the back early. He has been gelded on the back of that run and given some time off. We may well see a different horse when he returns, but be very aware of when the money comes for him.
SANDAMA – RICHARD FAHEY – OR 51
One right at the bottom of the scale to add to the squad. Pedigree suggests that at least a mile but likely further will really suit the daughter of Footstepsinthesand. It was very interesting how she was campaigned over mostly six furlongs at two. Even on her final start (most interesting) at Newcastle over seven, she struggled to lie up with them early doors. The further she went the better she went in a race where the front two had gone clear. She finished with loads of running left in her and can be marked up for that run even though the handicapper dropped her another 3lbs. When stepped up in trip this season I think she could be absolutely chucked in off 51.
TRANQUIL SOUL – DAVID LANIGAN – OR 65
Another filly but this time for David Lanigan. David always gives his horses plenty of time to mature and they tend to blossom as they get to three and sometimes even four. The real eye-catching moment was her run at Kempton in September where she showed that she is clearly going to be better than her current mark at some stage (held up off the pace and flew home) ridden by Ted Durcan the last three runs, I like the angle of horses finishing their two-year-old careers at Chelmsford as you can put a line through so many races there for one reason or another. She will win races this season.
ZOFFINIA – RICHARD FAHEY – OR 57
Most punters find it difficult to get excited about a filly rated 57 that has shown very little so far but for me it makes the game at times. If you have a spare five minutes today, take the time to watch back her videos. All five runs were at seven furlongs or a mile and in all of them she shaped like she will be much better suited to middle distances. Her pedigree also hints that this will aid her too. Lots of people see Zoffany as a sire and think speed. All his best form was up to a mile and his peak RPR was 120 at Ascot over that trip. His progeny though show level stakes profits when going over that trip (9f +112.97 and 10f +112.69 to BFSP) and a near 15% strike rate. Given the stamina on the dam side she is sure to appreciate going further this year and I’m sure Fahey will find her some juicy openings of a lowly mark. Exciting.
DIAMOND BEAR – SIR MARK PRESCOTT – OR 68
A rather typical Sir Mark slow burner who I’m pretty sure is a bit quirky. He has shaped several times that he might be a slow maturing horse that wants further and probably some head-gear. It’s interesting that you can make the case that he seemed to really enjoy the undulations of both Brighton and Epsom. He arguably would have won at Epsom but for getting in bother at a crucial stage (possibly his own fault). If you then take into account his run behind the very well handicapped PLY at Kempton (hampered at crucial stage when making ground) and his interesting run on his final start. I think he will laugh at this mark over 1m4f plus this season. The blinkers haven’t been tried yet either and I think he could really make giant strides this year. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he’s rated in the mid 80’s before we know it.
MAM’SELLE – WILLIAM HAGGAS – OR 89
The daughter of Teofilo didn’t race at two but made giant strides in a short space of time last year. Winning at Lingfield off 72, she then won the Ladies Derby at Newbury off 80 before running a massively eye-catching race in a big handicap at Ascot is September. That performance hinted that a bit further may see her step up into the big time this season. You can ignore her run in France in November as the ground was worse than a three-mile bog round Ffos Las. She should pay her way in 2018.
NICK VEDDER – MICHAEL WIGHAM – OR 73 (AW) 67 (TURF)
I like him. Moved to Michael Wigham from Karl Burke at Christmas and ran a very interesting race on New Years Eve when travelling strongly but never really put in to it. Jockey reported he hung right (eyebrows). He then ran in one of the most bizarre races of the winter when Testa Rossa actually behaved like his name and duly throttled clear. This caught several of the jockeys out shall we say and they ultimately had no chance. He was due to run at Wolverhampton on the 23rd February but managed to bag stall 11 over seven furlongs so was duly pulled out. I think he’s a well handicapped horse who should be kept on side over the coming weeks.
ODEN – NICK GIFFORD – OR 85
One of my favourite winners of last year when he bounded up the hill at Brighton in September on his final start for Roger Varian. The ground was worse than the description that day and one of my favourite angles on turf is to tuck into Lope De Vega’s progeny the first time they encounter bad ground. Admittedly he didn’t beat much and the 9lb slap from the handicapper is far from ideal but I just think he’s interesting. He was sold for 52,000 gns in the HIT sale on the back of this and having gone to Nick’s there is a chance he may now be switched to jumping. Given that performance, I’ll be very much looking forward to seeing him on soft ground over further this year. Could be a dark horse for pattern races or a big handicap.
OUT OF ORDER – TIM EASTERBY – OR 63
Won’t go into too much detail as I’ve written about him before. He’s a well handicapped horse but he’s been off the track for a year now so has clearly had some problems. I’ve dropped Tim an email to see if he’s still in training, I wonder if I’ll get a reply, will update if I do.
PIONEERTOWN – SIR MARK PRESCOTT – OR 83
He’s another one to add to the list of rapid Sir Mark improvers. He won really nicely twice at the back-end of the year at Newcastle off marks of 73 and 77. Now rated 83, he is sure to improve again this year for going a bit further. He could be a serious weapon going two miles this summer. He has taken a real shine to artificial surfaces so he may even be targeted at some of the bigger races back at Newcastle.
SCUZEME – DAVID BARRON – OR 74
A few of reasons for including Scuzeme in the list. Firstly I’m convinced he’s a well treated animal off his current mark of 74. He in my opinion, has also shaped several times like he will improve a bit for going up to six furlongs having raced exclusively at five. Mr Barron is a master at getting the best out of these sprinting types as they mature and that may well have just been the plan all along. He ran much better than the book suggests on his re-appearance last year behind Justanotherbottle who was chucked in and is now rated 94 (21lbs higher) so it may be that catching him fresh will pay dividends. I’d be very keen on him first time out if he’s upped to six furlongs, but equally an interesting sprinter to follow this season.
STORM OVER – ROBERT COWELL – OR 91
Not the most obvious type for this article given he’s already rated 91. He has shown a real liking for soft ground and has been pulled out a few times when it’s been quicker. He is another one who may sneak under the radar in big sprint handicaps or even pattern company when the rain comes this summer so should be included.
WARRIOR’S SPIRIT – RICHARD HANNON – OR 70
Won his maiden at Newbury over seven furlongs back in September 2016. Awarded an opening mark of 81 he has raced at seven furlongs but mostly a mile. Now you see loads of horses when watching racing that shape like they want further but every now and again you will come across one that you are convinced could be dropped in trip. He is the classic case. I think he’d be really interesting tried over six furlongs. Either way, having dropped 11lbs in the weights we now have a well handicapped beast to add to the squad.
WELOOF – JOHN BUTLER – OR 60
Thought I’d finish the four-year-olds off with a bang. A ridiculously well handicapped animal that has dropped a total of 21lbs in a about six months. If you are wondering how he made the cut, watch the video of his run at Lingfield on 31st December. Obviously he is connected with gamblers so the bigger guess may well be what is the going day but he is just too well in to ignore and I expect him to pay for at least one trip to America this year.
ALAADEL – STUART WILLIAMS – OR 85
I get to start this section with the horse I originally was most looking forward to seeing from the list. He’s a beautiful son of Dubawi that caught my eye every time he ran last year shaping like he was running over a trip way too short for him. Francesca Altoft got a couple of cracking pictures of him at Newbury.
Well he proved more than up to the six furlong task when given an absolute peach of a ride from Jim Crowley at Newbury in October on soft ground. Coming from off the pace with a well-timed run to win off a mark of 79.
Given the potential to improve when stepping up in trip I was also really interested to see him entered in the HIT sale at Tatts on the back of this. Not surprisingly he was a little out of my price range and went for 90,000 gns. He was purchased by Mr Morley and has been sent to Stuart Williams. This for the purpose of my punting is not really the best news as the new owner is well-connected to some high-profile gamblers but nevertheless, I’m sure he’s a well handicapped animal and he will be really interesting in some big handicaps over seven furlongs and upwards this year!
FOREST LAKES – PAUL D’ARCY – OR 57
Talking of big gambles, that leads me nicely on to this lady. Originally with Godolphin for three maiden runs in 2015 she was given a mark of 71. She then spent 2016 in the hands of George Scott. Having tumbled a stone in the weights she re-appeared in January last year having moved to Paul D’arcy for 10,000 gns in the HIT sale. Watch the run at Wolverhampton 13th Jan 17. Very interesting. Clearly though, she has had problems as we haven’t seen her since. If she is still in training, then when she re-appears, she is very well treated.
FOREVER YOURS – DEAN IVORY – OR 58
Looks fairly well lobbed in to me off a career low mark of 58. Absolutely tanked through his race at Lingfield on New Years Eve and should have won but for getting messed about on the bend as the winner kicked for home. Non runner ten days later and hasn’t been seen since which is often the case when connections want an obviously unlucky run to be forgotten. May have just been given a break, but should be winning real soon if all is well.
The Wild Cards!
In this section I’ve just thrown a few random horses in here that are not very obvious but are in my Proform Horse Watcher and are interesting for one reason or another moving forward. I won’t go into too much detail but will give a rough guide.
ANOTHER ANGEL (72) is trained now by Antony Brittain. Shaped like the best horse in the race on final start for Michael Dods at Newcastle and is probably better than his mark of 72. APEX PREDATOR was punted off the boards on the third start in a maiden angle but was withdrawn on vet’s advice. Clearly better than we have seen in his two starts to date and one to keep track of. JUST US TWO (76) finished on the bridle at Musselburgh in September before moving to Mark Pattinson. Had one run for Mark (100/1) and got thrashed out of sight, dropped 5lbs for that run he has now moved to Phil McEntee and should be monitored. MAD ROSE (50) was rated 72 when arriving in this country a year ago. Has fallen down the ladder quicker than Sunderland have the football league and after some “interesting” rides will no doubt be funding a trip to the Bahamas at some point in the near future. POETIC FORCE (84 aw, 71 turf) is an enigma. Been withdrawn a couple of times due to soft ground over the last year when I’m convinced he absolutely wants it soft. Would have gone very close to winning at Epsom but for terrible luck in running on heavy ground in October. On turf, in soft ground he’s a winner waiting to happen. SHAMAR (55) is one to keep on side having been added to the wrong trip/interesting rides list at the back-end of the year. I’ll finish with THIRD TIME LUCKY (95) who I’m convinced is better than his current mark and should exploit it at some point. He has an entry in the Lincoln which is a meeting his trainer does particularly well at.
I hope all of the above with provide you with some exciting anticipation for the upcoming flat season. I am well and truly ready now. These are just a handful of the entries in my Proform and hopefully they will bag us a few quid over the coming weeks. Enjoy the festival, I don’t really have too much to shout about in terms of ante-post positions this year. DIDTHEYLEAVEYOUOUTTO is just about my strongest winner in the bumper. I really like Footpad although I think we will get at least 13/8 maybe bigger about him on the day. Wicklow Brave will probably out run his odds in the Champion Hurdle. I also think Minella Rocco is well worth backing in all the various place markets and at big exchange prices for the Gold Cup. So many of them have questions to answer and just like last year, he’s likely to run past plenty of them up the hill. I think Wonderful Charm will run a huge race in the Foxhunters but my main bet on Friday will be Apple’s Shakira.
Have a wonderful few weeks and be lucky!